Nearly a Year into his Tenure as National Team Head Coach, Bruce Arena Discusses the State of the Program
BRUCE ARENA - U.S. Men's National Team head coach
"It's been a good year for us. My biggest concerns when I came into the job was to reestablish the team. Certainly we were all disappointed in the results in France. I inherited a team with a low morale, and a team that needed to change. And in one year we have been able to accomplish that. We have opened up competition, with no one being guaranteed a position on the field. We have a good healthy competitive environment on the team, and that is one of the reasons we have had some good results. But I will be the first to say that being successful in 1999 doesn't mean we will be successful in 2000 or 2001 or 2002. We have to maintain it."
"We have had a pretty good schedule to evaluate our team this past year. We haven't been playing any 'weak sisters'. With exception of the Confederations Cup and the Nike U.S. Cup, it hasn't been life and death for us, of course. For the most part I've been pleased. The attitude of our players is great and we've had a lot of depth revealed in our program. We are headed in the right direction, but we have a long way to go."
"MLS has been absolutely fantastic for our players. The league is developing our players and that is a real upside to it and our program. When you look around the world at the top leagues, it's tough for a player to break in with a Real Madrid or Barcelona or teams in England. MLS is paying dividends and giving players experience and that's a big part of our success. It has been fantastic."
"One area of concern I have for us is trying to get our full team together, and in one year we have had only one chance to bring a full team together, and that was our game in Jacksonville against Germany. It hasn't been critical for us this year, but it's important in the future to bring all of our team together. Getting them on the field at some point in the year 2000 is important, whether it be the Gold Cup in February or later in the year at the Nike U.S. Cup."
On what it took to raise the team's morale in his first year:
"I knew it would be a tremendous challenge. These are a great group of guys. They work hard and want to win. Wiping the slate clean and giving everyone a chance was important. That has helped a lot with the harmony of this team. No one is guaranteed a spot and nothing is assumed. It has made for a healthy atmosphere and the guys have been great. I'm actually shocked at the press that came out of France and I have seen nothing like that behavior in my year on the job."
On the U.S. Women's National Team's success and if it makes the U.S. Men's job tougher:
"I don't think their success makes it more difficult. I think people understand the men's competition is very different from the women. For us to be world champions is a major, major accomplishment, not that it isn't for the women, but we have quite a few more obstacles in our way win a World Cup. Our pressure is to be in the World Cup and once we get there to get better. Those are our goals. I am very happy with their success and it has helped the game in this country. It has been a major plus for U.S. Soccer and for them."
On the current U.S. Men's National Team player pool:
"I don't think there are a whole lot of new faces to look at ... perhaps a couple. Right now the goal is to get it down to a more manageable group, which would be about 30 players into camp in January. I have about 54 players on my list right now, and obviously that is a competitive, changeable list. There is room for other players to step in. I don't think there are too many out there that haven't got an opportunity at this time. If other players prove they deserve a look, they will get it."
On new MLS Commissioner Don Garber:
"I have met with him and I think he is a very sharp person that understands the strengths and weaknesses of the league. He's been described as a marketing person. I don't know what marketing means, but he is a sharp guy in terms of pro sports and his NFL experience will be great. He has some ideas of his own. He is not obligated to anyone. He's ready to bring in new ideas and new faces, and he is getting input from good places, like the coaches for instance. He will do a better job exposing the league and getting people into the stadiums. He is a good person and will do a lot of good things for the league."
On the pros and cons of playing in MLS versus a foreign league:
"Every case is different for each player. I give them my opinions on pros and cons in staying in MLS or going abroad. As a starting point, it is a very bad premise to say you will automatically be a better player if you go overseas. You may make more money, but you won't necessarily be a better player. These players will be getting games here and making a solid salary. There are pros and cons on both sides, and I tell them to think about it. In many cases, a player will still have other opportunities to still go overseas. In the case of McBride and Armas, they have chosen to stay, which I'm happy about. But other players will choose to go overseas. It doesn't matter to me either way in selection."
On staying in college soccer versus joining Major League Soccer:
"Again, every situation is on its own merits. Any collegiate player that has aspirations of playing pro soccer or on the national team, needs to make the move as soon as possible. Ben Olsen is a good example. His aspirations were to play professionally and play for the national team. It wasn't going to happen staying at Virginia. Coaches in college soccer do a great job, but it is just a three-month game schedule. You get so far behind in physical demands and speed of play. It's a whole different ball game. The quicker you make the move out of college soccer and into Pro-40 or the A-league, the better. Of course, we are not talking about 100 players, we are talking about just the elite players."
On MLS scheduling:
"I think that schedule will change next year. For whatever reason they extended the season this year to November and I think everyone can see now that that is a mistake. The season is too long. I think it will be corrected next year and will be cut short by a month."
On the rivalry against Mexico, who beat the U.S. twice in 1999:
"Mexico is one of the top 10 teams in the world, and we played two matches that we could have won against them. Basically both games were on the road, (one in San Diego) and one in a match at the Confederations Cup that was stacked so heavily in their favor ... we have a lot of great excuses for losing, but let's admit they were the better team. We had a chance to beat them in San Diego, but we didn't. We haven't played them with our full team, but I'm looking forward to that opportunity. Whenever we play them it is going to be a great game."
On potential impact of having an MLS team compete in first FIFA World Club Championship:
"I think it would be great. If we have players missing a camp in January because of that, then that is a real plus. The more opportunities our players get, the better. Our players are gaining respect around the world, but for the most part our American players are a cheap commodity. And I think they are really underpriced. If one of our players does well in a tournament like that and receives notice, that helps everybody."
On the status of the U.S. Under-23 National Team head coaching position:
"U.S. Soccer has an Under-23 coach in Clive Charles and he hasn't made any contact with me to say otherwise. I read that report and I think it is erroneous. Clive Charles is our U.S. Under-23 National Team coach."
On the make-up of the 2000 U.S. Olympic Team:
"Clive Charles is the coach of that team and he has been working with a pool of players for well over a year. A strong majority of players are MLS players. The team in the Pan Am Games wasn't our true U-23 team. Ben Olsen, Chad McCarty, Josh Wolff, Brian Dunseth, Joey DiGiamarino, Ramiro Corrales, Steve Cherundolo, Chris Albright ... these are all professional players as opposed to the team in 1996. Clive has had them together on and off for a year or so. The final stage of qualifying will be held in the U.S. in April next year. There's a chance (for a college player to make the team), but I think it's tough. It's Clive's decision, though. There will be a couple of collegiate players in that final team, but I'm guessing 90 percent of the players will be professionals. A guy like Ben Olsen will be with both teams for sure, but it doesn't really correlate (a relation between the full team selection and the Under-23s). There may be a little bit of an overlap in that regard, but not much."
On any surprises that have hit him coaching at this level:
"The game gets faster at every level. I think just the ability to evaluate players and put them in the right spot of the field, which isn't too different from the club level. I am pretty comfortable in the evaluation of our pool and I'm comfortable with the direction we need to go to get to a World Cup."
On his preference for potential venues for World Cup Qualifiers:
"I think it really depends on who we are playing. It's very hard to answer. In general terms, Washington, D.C., is a great venue. I think New England is great venue. New York would be a great venue. Southern California is not a good venue when we play Central American teams. Portland has been a good venue for us in the past. Wherever we get good support from our fans is a good venue for us, and the L.A. Coliseum doesn't fit into that definition."
On the perceived problem for the U.S. Men at forward:
"I don't think it is a U.S. problem. It is universal. Not that many countries have a world class forward. What the problem is, I don't know. I think it comes in time and I believe we have a number of young players that could fill that role in the future. Landon Donovan is a good young player playing in Germany. Chris Albright in D.C. Eric Wynalda could come back and be a factor. We could still see a lot more out of Brian McBride. Right now we haven't produced a player that can score a lot of goals. I don't walk away saying the forwards are the problem. A lot of time it is a combination thing, with our passing and crossing not always being good enough. A player like Brian McBride needs quality crosses to maximize his game. There are a bunch of reasons why we haven't scored enough goals, but we are not desperate. We outscored Germany 5-0 in two games."
On the USA goalkeeping situation:
"We are blessed with a number of great goalkeepers. Right now Zach Thornton has a lead on Kevin Hartman and Tom Presthus, and Matt Jordan is someone we want to look at. But we can't discount Tony Meola...who is ahead of our young goalkeepers right now. Tony is someone with a lot of experience that is invaluable at that position. Our three veterans (Brad Friedel, Kasey Keller and Meola) are ahead of the young ones. We have a lot of competition at that position and a lot of promise."
On Josh Wolff's recent injury:
"He is a young player with a lot of promise. Certainly when he is recovered he will be in our Olympic Team and National Team pool. He is a great player off the ball making runs, and he has 10 goals and a great nose for the goal. When he is healthy, I'm sure he will be back in our plans."
On Matt McKeon's recent call-up:
"Matt did very well against Germany and Saudi Arabia. I know Matt well from the Olympic team and I brought him in because of his altitude preparation in Colorado. He did a good solid job. He needs to be a bit fitter at the National Team level. He is a great passer, great in the air and can get forward. He is a pretty solid player who is still in our pool."
On Jeff Agoos' recent form with the U.S. National Team:
"I've known Jeff for a number of years. I recruited him out of high school. He is a very good player, and I think he feels a little bit more comfortable now. And mentally there is a lot to deal with at this level. In a lot of players, believe it or not, it still comes down to confidence. He feels more comfortable now and it shows on the field. He is an unbelievable hard worker and very detailed, and he challenges himself everyday. To the point he ends up challenging you as a coach, because he wants to get the most out of every day."
On players current playing status in Europe and its effects on their U.S. status:
"Frankie (Hejduk) has played just about every game this season, at least as a substitute, and he played 90 minutes last week. I think Frankie has benefitted from the move to Europe. I would only be concerned if he went a whole year without playing. (Tony) Sanneh and I talked last night and he got an assist in 65 minutes against Chelsea (in a 2-1 Champions League win). It's a plus that he is back on the field, even though he hasn't played a whole lot this season. These teams taking part in the Champions League are going to be fielding changing line-ups with the amount of games they will be called upon to play. Jovan (Kirovski) is in a different situation and it doesn't look like he is going to get a lot of playing time. He can't afford to not be playing at his age (23). It's not going to help him not playing; that needs to get resolved."
"Elsewhere Claudio Reyna is doing well and (Kasey) Keller, of course, and (Gregg) Berhalter and (Ernie) Stewart are playing regularly. And Steve Cherundolo is playing well in Germany, and John O'Brien is getting more and more time with Ajax. He is still trying to comeback from that toe injury, which is the same one that Deion Sanders has, and he is one of the world's great athletes. So O'Brien really hasn't been at 100% yet and hopefully he can get back to that point."
On his interest in Michael Mason and David Wagner:
"Not at this point. What little I've seen of them I'm not sure they are players that can help us out right now."
On the team's 2000 schedule:
"In January we will have a camp and possible two or three games, both at home and away. And we have the Gold Cup in February, which is a good competition for us. In March we will schedule 1 or 2 international matches and we will have the Nike U.S. Cup in June and possibly a couple more friendlies from April to October. It is shaping up to be an excellent schedule for us against good opponents."